Free Study Guide: The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien - Free BookNotes|
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THE THINGS THEY CARRIED: SYNOPSIS / ONLINE NOTES
When she was nine years old, O’Brien’s daughter Kathleen asked if he had ever killed anyone. He lied and said ‘no’. He had killed a young man he killed on the trail with a hand grenade.
He thinks back on that night, when his entire platoon sat in ambush along the trail. Kiowa woke him during the night and got him ready for his turn at the watch. He sat there and watched as a young man came out of the fog and walked slowly along the trail. Although he did not hate the young man, did not hate his politics, but his training took over and he had thrown the grenade before he even told himself to throw it. As the grenade rolled along the trail, O’Brien felt like warning him to run away. The man saw it and tried to run, but it exploded and killed him. Kiowa told him it was inevitable, the guy would have died anyway, but O’Brien felt sure the man could have just kept walking. There was no danger to the platoon.
He writes these stories to sort everything out. Sometimes he feels guilty;
usually he just puts it out of his mind. But occasionally, when he’s reading
a book, his mind will lose focus and he’ll see the young man coming out
of the mist towards him.
This chapter should be read in conjunction with “The man I killed.”
O’Brien maintains that there is nothing brave or courageous about a man
killing another man. There is only tragedy.
The platoon comes across a burning hut with a young girl dancing out
in front. As they search the wreckage they find the burnt corpses of the
girl’s family and pull them out. Still, the girl keeps dancing with her
hands over her ears. She had a quiet composed look on her face. Later,
when the platoon moved out, she was still dancing. Azar thought it must
be some weird ritual, but Dobbins said the girl just liked to dance. That
night Azar mocked the girls dancing, doing the same spins, moving sideways
then backwards. Henry Dobbins picked him up and threatened to dump him
in a deep well if he didn’t “dance right.”
It is strange that O’Brien doesn’t place this story two chapters ahead in
the book, since it could easily be a continuation of the earlier stories
about Henry Dobbins. The point of the story is summed up in his last sentence
“dance right.” Dobbins is clearly irritated by someone who would mock
a little girl who just lost her family in a fiery inferno. As we’ve learned
already, Dobbins believes in treating the people right.
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Strate, Shane. "TheBestNotes on The Things They Carried".
. 09 May 2017